An e-chat with M C Raj
You're a social activist, community leader, author and what else? How and when did you start writing?
I am also a Campaigner. I have started a national campaign for proportionate electoral system in India. I started writing in the year 1984. When my wife and I came to Tumkur to work among the poor in rural areas the first thing I did was to make a study of the District from all government documents and I brought out an unpublished book known as “Tumkur At a Glance”. Inspired by this the Center for Non-Formal Education in Bangalore brought out similar books on many other districts of Karnataka. After two years of work, I wanted to put down our experience of working with the poor as we enjoyed our work and began to taste success after success. I wanted to highlight the strategies that led to our small successes already at that very early stage of our work. Therefore, I wrote another unpublished bigger work called “The Beginnings”. My wife and I are good trainers. But I am also a training designer in participatory training methodologies. I wrote a book on ‘Participatory Training Methodology’. This was published by the Dialogue Group in Chennai. These were the beginning stages of my writing.
Which was your first published work and when? Can you share how that came about?
But my real first published book was in the year 1997. I am a student of philosophy. I happened to read the book “A Foucault Reader”. It generated a lot of interest in me that I also should write a book in the line of Foucault’s analysis of the dominant society. However, I did not agree with his conclusion that problematizing is enough for society. I believe that a writer has a duty to also write about what he/she thinks as strategic action to address problems. This may have been because I was also working on resolving problems in the lives of the poor and could not take neutral positions. I sat down to write and it became a well acclaimed book, “From Periphery to Center”. The subtitle of the Book was ‘An Analysis of the Paradigms of Globalization, Casteism and Dalitism”. Since this book was acclaimed well I wanted to write more and more. It is in my nature that when I start doing something and I enjoy it then I keep on doing more and more of it. From then on I have made writing as a major habit of mine. This year for example, in 2011 I have written already three published books, two novels and one theory book and am writing intensively my fourth novel of the year.
What was the response to your initial writing(s)? Did any specific recognition/appreciation/criticism affect you or your future work?
A friend of mine spoke to the Sage Books. They talked to me and said that they were starting a series on Dalit Literature and that the above mentioned book would become the first one. However, after sometime they wrote and said that it was an excellent piece of work. However, they were not able to publish it. I was shocked. Therefore, I decided to start a publishing unit in my Organization and that has been publishing most of my books. Some colleges in Bangalore organized seminars based on my first work. I was very happy. One day I took my two children to the Premier Book Shop in Bangalore to buy some books. I asked the owner if he had a good book on Globalization. He went to one shelf and brought just one book and said that he found it to be the best. My daughter shouted , “But uncle, this is his own book. He is the author of the book.’ The owner just stood and looked at me for a few seconds and smiled. I was very happy.
When I wrote my next book Dalitology, which is a book of 820 pages, there was a gathering of 6000 people who assembled for its release in a ground in Bangalore. It was a huge function. There were intellectuals and civil society leaders from all over India. The book also made a sensation in many circles. It sold out 2000 copies in no time. Today in some countries when I am introduced to people with my name M C Raj they immediately recognize me as the author of Dalitology. I am the son of totally illiiterate parents. It gives me extreme happiness when such recognitions are given to me.
My book Cosmosity was officially released by the Association of Dalit IAS, IPS and IFS officers in Karnataka. It is an Association managed by their wives and they took responsibility for the release.
One of my negative experience is that some of my close friends decided to drop relationship with me after I wrote Dalitology. This is very baffling that people can give up friendship because of what I write. I am an atheist and it somehow gets reflected in many of my books of philosophy. When Dalitology became famous one German donor who supported our work till then wrote a letter saying that they were stopping funds for our Organization because of Dalitology. I could not make head and tail out of it , as my book was not a document of my Organization.
There is a new book by Rajiv Malhotra that is highly critical of Dalitology. I like such critical analysis of my book. I like to know how readers can tear my views into pieces with their own different understanding.
What makes you write now? Which are your favourite themes?
In the recent past I have also started writing fiction. I have already two published novels. My third novel is ready for release one of these days. I am intensively writing the fourth one. In between I also write theory books. In 2009 another big volume of mine with 1100 pages was published in a huge function. Winnie Mandela had agreed to come to Bangalore to release the book. However, her grand daughter died a day before she could start from South Africa and she had to cancel her trip. It is a book on Dalit Psychology, a ‘never seen before’ type of book. Why do I write now? A very straight reply will be that I enjoy writing. I am a original thinker and so writing comes to me naturally. I am used to work almost through the night. I sleep only a little. I enjoy my nights wrting. During the day I am a campaigner. I also have the agenda of creating a lot of resource for the future generations of Dalit communities and the country. I want my people to live on par with the rest of the society in level playing fields instead of cringing and whining.
My favorite theme is philosophy. But I also write on Psychology and Spirituality. I am a spiritualist because I am an atheist. Of late I am entering into the aspects of love, sexuality and relationship through my fictions. I am not a unifocal writer.
Any advice for new and emerging writers?
I avoid giving advice to any one. When people ask me what I want to become finally in my life I say that I want to be a butterfly. It has many stages of growth and is absolutely free when it matures. Does no harm to anyone but drnks the nectar of nature and dies without anyone noticing it. Each one can be a butterfly maturing in his/her own space and time.
A bit about yourself...
I grew up in a family living below poverty line and my parents were total illiterates. However, I have had extraordinary opportuniteis in life through the missionaries who made me study and helped me grow. From childhood I have been working very hard, as I wanted to prove myself to the entire world as someone. This was because when I entered my village school some of the caste boys came round me clapping their hands and ridiculing me. That day they nicknamed me as ‘Crow’s Shit’. For eight long years I was known only by this name in the school. I did not take up to abnormal ways of proving myself. I worked hard for excellence in studies, sports, in drama, in painting, in music, in public speech etc. Hard work has never stopped. I enjoy working hard and facing new challnges always. So much so that I used to tell my friends that I am a good crisis manager. When there is no crisis I create one so that I may manae it well. I am also an eternal rebel. Once a Duitch friend of mine asked me to what extent my rebellion would go. I told her: ‘When people put me in the coffin and bury me and if you open my coffin after six months you would see that I changed position in the coffin. Even after my death I shall not accept the position that others put me in. Even there I shall take my freedom to place myself in my chosen position. I have done my graduation in Philosophy, another degree in theology, and post graduate studies in Sociology. I like silence and solitude. I like to read and write. I like to listen to music and dance. I do not like partying and dislike gossiping about others. Though I am very comfortable when I am left alone I speak as much as I write. I am an orator and like public speeking.
Your wife Jyothi Raj was your co-author sometimes. Have your other family members and/or friends contributed to your writing?
Often I discuss my writings with my children. We discuss most things as a family. My chidren are extremely good in reflecting with me and my wife. I cross check with my children about the style of my fiction writing as they are very young and know what suits the taste of modern young people. But when it comes to philosophy they just listen to me and admire me. I like to share my insights with them simply because of the appreication I get from them. No one disturbs me when I am in my computer and that is most of my life at home. A very well supporting wife and children indeed.
Do you enjoy or dislike reading any particular authors/writers and genres?
I generally love reading books of depth philosophy. Habermas, Foucault, Chomsky and Radhakrishnan used to be my favorite authors. But now I know what they write in any new book. I like Faranz Fannon. I do not like light reading. I generally read only resource books. I do not like books that indulge in mere rhetoric. Of late I read a lot on Indian Philosophy.
Would you like to mention anything else about yourself or your writing?
I shall leave this world with sense of fulfilment for having risen from burning ashes. Many of my friends have told me that they have to read my books three or four times to understand. I stuff my words with a lot of meaning and I choose loaded words in my writing. I have tried to write in simple style but somehow have fallen back on my idiosyncrasy. I have a feeling that the world is generally losing interest in serious reading. This is a passing phase in world history. May be after my death a lot of people will read my writing.